For those of you who, for some unimagined reason, haven’t been following New York state politics for the last couple of weeks, allow me to fill you in on the “coup”:
For years, the Republicans controlled the State Senate, while the Democrats controlled the lower house, the State Assembly. We became quite used to seeing the Assembly’s majority leader, Sheldon Silver, and the Senate’s majority leader, Joe Bruno, as they duked it out, yet had a good-natured respect for each other.
But then, last spring, things started going south, as it were, up north in Albany. Our Governor, Eliot Spitzer, started attacking Joe Bruno. Meanwhile, we soon learned, he (Mr Spitzer, not Mr Bruno) was seeing prostitutes professionally (their profession, not his... well, his too, I suppose). Before we knew it, Mr Spitzer was out, we had Governor Paterson, and then in the November elections the balance of power in the State Senate shifted.
But only by a little. The Democrats controlled the Senate, 32 to 30. We had a new majority leader, Malcolm Smith. The Republicans were unhappy, but, well, what could they do?
Last week, we found out.
In a surprising power-grab, brokered, it seems, by three-time failed gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano, the Republicans courted two Democratic senators, Pablo Espada and Hiram Monserrate, both from New York City (the Bronx and Queens, respectively), and got their agreement to vote with them. And, then, Monday afternoon a week ago, they called for a roll-call vote on a change of leadership, over the objections of the Democrats, who called the vote “illegal”.
As planned, all 30 Republicans and the two “renegade” Democrats voted for the change, resulting in a “shared” leadership, which the Republicans are calling “bi-partisan”: Senator Espada gets the President Pro-Tempore position, and Republican leader Dean Skelos is the “majority leader”.
It will surprise no one that things went downhill from there. All work in the Senate stopped, as all efforts went into fighting about this issue. It went to court late last week, where a judge put off any decision, ordering the parties to sort it out like adults (ha!). Meanwhile, Senator Monserrate backpedaled, re-joining the Democrats and splitting the Senate 31-31. Of course, the Democrats then claimed that they were in power again, while the Republicans said that the last vote left them (well, technically their “bi-partisan coalition”) in control. But it mattered little who claimed to be in control, because there’s nothing, at the moment, to be in control of.
This Tuesday, the judge finally gave a ruling that did nothing at all — he still expects the Senators to work things out nicely.
The question that many are asking is why the two Democrats agreed to side with the Republicans. Their answer, naturally, is that they believe in bi-partisan leadership, but the real answer seems more personal. Senator Espada has recently been under investigation for financial irregularities, and Senator Monserrate is under indictment for attacking his girlfriend and cutting her with broken glass. Both senators have lost prestige in the Senate, some of which they hope to get back through this move. I can’t imagine, though, that they will survive the next election in their districts.
And, so, here I sit, looking at a State Senate that’s putting their personal needs ahead of the needs of the state, and looking at my own Senator, Vincent Leibell, a Republican who has been doing a good job, and whom I’ve supported in the past, not willing to replace him with a poorer Democrat just for partisan reasons. And I have to ask Senator Leibell where his support goes. I have to ask him what he has to say to voters such as I, who now see that the party is more important, at this point, than the individuals, however good a job they’ve done — his own Republican Party has made that clear.
I have to ask Senator Leibell what he can say to me as to why I should continue to support him, rather than voting against him — or, well, even running against him — because he participated in this ridiculous enterprise.
And so I have asked: I’ve written him a letter. If I get a response, I’ll post it in these pages.